- Eamonn Brennan, ESPN Staff Writer
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Quick note: To maintain some statistical consistency, I only included players returning to college hoops this season. A list of freshmen to watch follows the top 10 and honorable mentions.
1. Andre Roberson, Colorado: Last season, only one player in the country rebounded the ball more frequently on the defensive end than Roberson. That player's name was Thomas Robinson. Perhaps you remember him. Roberson has been a force on the glass since he arrived at Colorado, but he was particularly good on the defensive end in his sophomore season, when he grabbed 29.6 percent of his team's available rebounds, and finished tied for fourth in the nation with 11.1 rebounds per game. If Roberson maintains that defensive dominance, and raises his offensive rate to the level he achieved as a freshman (15.1 percent, as opposed to last season's still-notable 12.7), he'll be the sport's leading glasswork technician.
2. Jack Cooley, Notre Dame: As good as Roberson was on the defensive end last season, Cooley was nearly as good on offense. He grabbed 16.7 percent of available offensive rebounds, fifth-best in the country, and the highest among any player in a power conference. Cooley put in frequent work on defense, too (grabbing 20.4 percent of misses), but his ability to track down his teammates' missed shots is as crucial for Notre Dame as any specific player's specific skill will be to any specific team this season. It gets Cooley easy, efficient baskets, and it earns Mike Brey's methodical offense much-needed extra possessions. It also might just get this recovered video game addict-turned-star a Big East Player of the Year nod.
3. O.D. Anosike, Siena: With all due respect to the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, rebounding in the MAAC is hardly the same proposition as rebounding in a league filled with true centers and future pro forwards. But even so, it's impossible to overlook the dominant work of Anosike, the 2011-12 season's national boards leader, and the only player to average more than 12 per game. Many of the nation's best rebounders tend to excel on one end or the other. Anosike finished among the top 40 in the country in both offensive and defensive rebounding rate. He was a balanced and tireless rebounder, and his claim to the counting-stats throne was proof enough.
4. Mike Moser, UNLV: Moser is a pro. He's too much the ideal small forward archetype -- 6-foot-8 with a 6-foot-11 wingspan, plus leaping, versatility and rangy defense -- not to eventually wind up playing small forward at the next level. But there were plenty of reasons to love his game already last season, even as he played out of position at power forward. Namely, the dude boards. He averaged 10.6 rebounds per game last season (10th best in the country) and nabbed 28.1 percent of opponents' misses (national rank: No. 9). It will be interesting to see what the arrival of No. 1-ranked freshman power forward Anthony Bennett and the Class of 2011's No. 1-ranked center (and Pitt transfer), Khem Birch, do for Moser's rebounding totals in 2012-13, as he transitions to a more natural small forward role. My guess? UNLV opponents won't get much in the way of second chances.
5. Pierce Hornung, Colorado State: Colorado State's sojourn to the 2012 NCAA tournament earned coach Tim Miles a job at Nebraska, but it also helped introduce the world to Hornung, one of the nation's most effective offensive rebounders. Despite being listed at 6-foot-5, the forward posted an 18.4 percent offensive rebounding rate in 2011-12, second best in the country. How? By being incredibly difficult to box out. Like all great undersized rebounders, Hornung works for position early, sheds defenders with strength, and uses that rare rebounders' intuition (see: Kevin Love) to anticipate parabolic caroms off the rim. Like Cooley, Hornung's effective retrieval not only earned his team extra possessions, but it made his offensive output very efficient (to the tune of a 125.7 offensive rating). Expect more of the same this season.
6. Jamelle Hagins, Delaware: The Fightin' Blue Hens are a trendy sleeper pick to win the Colonial this season, and Hagins is a big reason why. He was the nation's third-leading rebounder in 2011-12, posting 15 double-doubles en route to averaging 12.4 points and 11.1 rebounds per game. His defensive rebounding rate was 27.2 percent, and he grabbed more than 10 percent of his own team's misses, and was aided in his counting stats by Delaware's tendency to get up and down the floor. He could put up even gaudier numbers in 2012-13.
7. Tony Mitchell, North Texas: The former Missouri signee is the kind of talent you don't often see in the Sun Belt, and his rebounding numbers back it up. He averaged 10.3 rebounds per game, and notched the fourth-highest defensive rebounding rate in the country (28.8 percent). He wasn't quite as effective on the offensive end -- he barely missed the 10 percent mark in offensive rebound rate, at 9.6 -- but that is also a byproduct of being the primary focus of the Mean Green offense. Mitchell has already proven his bona fides; the next step is a truly dominant season.
8. Jackie Carmichael, Illinois State: For three years, Carmichael has done nothing but improve his productivity on the glass. As a freshman, he rebounded 16.1 percent of his team's available defensive boards. As a sophomore, that number jumped to 21.8. As a junior, it rose to 28.8 -- good for fifth-best in the country. His offensive rebounding also leapt, and as a result Carmichael nearly doubled his overall rebounding output (to 9.7 rebounds per game) in 2011-12. If that trend extends to his senior season, he could have a massive statistical year in store.
9. Dennis Tinnon, Marshall: When people talk about Marshall, and its strong odds of getting to the NCAA tournament this season, guard DeAndre Kane is frequently the first name mentioned. But Tinnon shouldn't go overlooked. He averaged 10.0 rebounds per game last season, and he wasn't imbalanced in his retrieval; he posted a 14.9 percent offensive rebounding rate and 23.8 percent defensive rate, ranking 26th and 49th in the nation, respectively. He was also his offense's most efficient scorer, and the two traits are deeply intertwined.
10. Alan Williams, UC Santa Barbara: From a sheer tempo-free statistical standpoint, you can make the argument that Williams is the best offensive rebounder in the country. After all, he finished first in the country in offensive rebound rate, per KenPom.com, and did so by a rather wide margin (Hornung's 18.4 was the closest to Williams' dominant 22.5 percent). The only hitch here? He played just 17 minutes per game. For that reason alone, we can't rank Williams anywhere near the top of this list ... but it would have been a mistake to leave him off, too. Keep your eyes peeled, and don't be surprised if Williams has a massive breakout season.
(Update: Per statistically advanced recruiting honcho Drew Cannon, also keep an eye on Syracuse's DaJuan Coleman, Kentucky's Willie Cauley-Stein, and Baylor's Ricardo Gathers.)